If you’re among the 20 million monthly listeners of the Armchair Expert podcast, you may understand the phenomenon of hearing Monica Padman and feeling like fast friends. Her warm demeanor signals your guard to come down and might even encourage you to dive into discussions you’d typically save for your inner circle. And it’s not a one-way street either.
In fact, Padman, along with host, Dax Shepard, has created an open and safe space—namely, the attic of Shepard and wife, Kristen Bell’s home—to share stories of life’s hardest struggles, biggest triumphs, and even unpopular opinions. This goes for her, Shepard, and the show’s roster of guests—a list that looks like a dream mashup of Hollywood icons, the New York Times Best Sellers list, political heroes, and royalty (yes, we mean Prince Harry).
But what’s even more remarkable than the conversations taking place in this unique environment, is Padman’s—or “Miniature Mouse” for the Armcherries fanbase—path to this career. Her professional life started as a hopeful comedic actress who landed a job babysitting for Shepard and Bell’s children. She moved into assisting and producing roles with Bell, and eventually the Armchair Expert Co-Host and Co-Producer chair. Now Padman touches nearly every part of the runaway success, as well as spinoff series where she digs into some of the most intimate parts of her life, including dating in Monica & Jess Love Boys and an upcoming podcast that follows her through the process of freezing her eggs.
In her words, her arrival at this point in her career is “kismet,” “organic,” and, for someone establishing their voice next to an actor who’s already a household name, not without its challenges. But it’s also clear that Padman’s success is a testament to her ability to listen to and connect with anyone in her orbit and reciprocate by opening up, as well. In essence, it’s not unlike the quality of a very good friend.
"You just have to be open to all opportunities, even if it's not the thing that you'll ultimately end up doing."
ON THE ROAD FROM BABYSITTER TO CO-HOST
When I started nannying for Dax and Kristen, I had no idea any of this was on the table. When their youngest child was ready to go to preschool, they sat me down and were like, “We don't want to lose you, so maybe we can figure out something else.” That's when my job pivoted to assisting, and then writing and producing with Kristen. The podcast came after that. I’ve just recently transitioned out of working with Kristen because the podcast has become so much bigger than any of us expected. It's all been organic and lovely, but it's also been hard. I don't want to take that part away from the story. With each transition, everyone had to adjust. Kristen could have said, “No, you can't do this podcast because I need you to be focused here,” and she didn’t. I think she knew it was a better path for me, but that comes out at a cost to her. In the end, everyone gained, everyone lost. It was just a ride.
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING
Listening is the most important component of having a conversation. It's not thinking about what you are going to say, but reacting to what the other person says very honestly. Dax and I both have an improv background and, for me, that was the biggest thing I learned in improv: how to listen. The only way you're good is if you are listening and reacting in the moment, even though there's a huge temptation to just be funny and come up with things ahead of time. I also think Armchair Expert is such a safe space. We allow anything to be said, from either of us or the guests, and tell them we can cut anything out in editing, too. We don't want anyone in their head, including either of us.
ON THE BEST NO SHE EVER HEARD
When I first moved to Los Angeles I sent out headshots, resumes, and emails to all of these agents trying to get meetings, and every single one, minus one, said "no." And that was helpful because I had to figure out the next step which was joining the improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade. I knew I needed more on my resume and I knew wanted to do comedy, but I really didn't want to take the classes. I was so anxious about it, and then it changed my life in such a profound way. I made friends, I had a community. And I don't think I would've done that if a bunch of agents up front had said, “Oh yeah, she looks interesting, we'll take her on!”
ON FINDING HER VOICE AND THOUGHTFULLY USING IT
I remember early on I was upset because I was not talking enough on the podcast. There were these big directors and people I admire coming in, and I'm just sitting there silent. I've definitely become way more vocal than at the start of the podcast but there are still episodes where I don't say anything. Now it's not because I'm not racking my brain to figure out an in, I'm just listening. I'm just realizing I'm not needed right now. That's a big lesson I've taken: You don't have to share your opinion on everything. If you have something to say that's additive or a real question, great. And I don't want to imply that women should be quiet—I am all about calling people out. I want women to speak up and not feel overpowered by the male in front of them. But talking just for the sake of talking is not always helpful.
"Armchair Expert is such a safe space. We allow anything to be said, from either of us or the guests...We don't want anyone in their head, including either of us."
ON BEING OPEN TO ALL OPPORTUNITIES
I got advice a long time ago that said “love the thing that loves you back.” And that's what I've done. Before I took the babysitting job with Dax and Kristen, I was working at SoulCycle and was in a very weird space in my life. I felt untethered. I had babysat a ton in the past and told myself I was done with that. Then this opportunity arose and I felt in my bones that I should take it. It was a warm environment and it ended up being the best decision I ever made. You just have to be open to all opportunities, even if it's not the thing that you'll ultimately end up doing. Your life is happening, you know? You can't live it for what might be.
ON A COMFORT-FIRST APPROACH TO WORK STYLE
I love fashion, I really do. I'm always shopping and want to know the new trends. It always has been a huge part of my life. But I don't think about it when I go to the attic to record Armchair Expert. There's something about the space itself, it just feels like I'm going to hang out, it does not feel like work. I also try to walk to work so I can't be in heels or anything super restrictive. I have to mix casual and cute to do that. I think the only times I've thought about what I wore in front of the guests were for the episodes with Barack Obama and Gwyneth Paltrow.
ON FULFILLING YOUNGER MONICA’S DREAM
When I was younger and I first decided I wanted to act, it was because I was obsessed with Friends. The actors looked like they were having so much fun doing that job, being with people that they enjoyed, and I wanted to do that. I used to say all the time that I wanted to be in a TV ensemble—I don't want to be the star of anything, I just want to be with a bunch of people with whom I enjoy making something together. And, you know, I didn't do that on TV, but I did do that. I am working with my best friends all day long and creating stuff and having fun and talking and laughing. I did ultimately get what I wanted, even though it's not in the package I thought it was going to be.
ON THE NORTH STAR OF HER CAREER
The only thing I am adamant about is staying true to myself and taking steps forward with authenticity and honesty. I think that's what we brought to the table with Armchair Expert. We just interviewed Malcolm Gladwell and he said something really interesting: “Everyone who makes a product of any kind has a contract with their audience. It's an invisible contract and you make up the rules for it.” And I think we have one with our audience: We're going to be honest. That might mean we make mistakes or we say things we're not supposed to say, but we are honest and open. And I want to keep that running through the rest of what I do because that has been so helpful for me internally and I think helpful for others.